‘Serve the country again’: Veterans signing up as election poll workers

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‘Serve the country again’: Veterans signing up as election poll workers:-IN WASHINGTON − Christa Sperling, who used to be in the Air Force, sees Super Tuesday at a voting place in Asheville, North Carolina, as a way to serve her country again.

As Sperling works at the polls for the first time on Tuesday, she hopes that seeing soldiers helping out at their local precincts will make people trust the election process more. There aren’t enough poll workers across the country, and she is one of many soldiers who are willing to help.

‘Serve the country again’: Veterans signing up as election poll workers

We the Veterans and Military Families is an organization that was created after the attack on the Capitol on January 6 to give veterans the tools they need to strengthen democracy. In 2022, they started the Vet the Vote program to encourage positive civic participation and boost trust in elections. There are more worries about the fairness of U.S. elections now that former President Donald Trump lied about the 2020 election to try to change the results.

The Vet the Vote program got more than 63,500 veterans and family members of veterans to work at the polls during the 2022 midterms. For 2024, the group wants to raise the bar even more by hiring 100,000 poll workers.

“I believe that Americans trust veterans and family members of veterans, which is a great honor and a unique place in society,” Sperling said. “Having veterans and family members of veterans at the polls can help people feel more at ease that they can trust the people who are there.”

Building trust in polarized environment

In 2022, Vet the Vote started a campaign to get veterans and military families to the polls. Tens of thousands of people answered. More than 90% of people said they would do it again, and 80% said it made them trust elections more.

There was one tour of duty for Dan Vallone in the Army. This year, he joined the Vet the Vote team. He said that when service members work as poll workers, it helps bring people together in their towns because they have to put politics aside when they are on the front lines.

Vallone said, “I think it helps make veterans and military family members such trusted people to do this kind of work, especially at a time when there is so much divide in society as a whole.”

He was in the Marine Corps for 20 years and saw elections in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“That question of how to make those elections legitimate is something I never thought I’d have to deal with in my own country,” he said.

Cooper worked as a poll worker in Washington, D.C., in 2022. He said it worried him that some people thought votes were stolen or mail-in ballots were fake after the 2020 election. He thinks that the division and chaos of the last few years have made people not care about voting, which is one of the biggest threats to the country.

As for voting, he said, “it’s a crisis if we’re going to weaken and destroy those institutions in some way.” “It’s why I think this (volunteering as a poll worker) might be far more important than anything I ever did in the Marine Corps.”

The Americans on the front lines of elections | Brookings

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Community connection

Ellen Gustafson, a Navy spouse, saw her military friends spreading false information about politics and elections on social media. This made her want to start a group to help figure out why veterans seemed to be the target of false information.

Gustafson, co-founder of We the Veterans, told USA TODAY, “That’s really bad for our country if those people, if people like us, are really becoming the targets and then the spreaders of misinformation.”

Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran and one of the co-founders of We the Veterans and Military Families. He chose to help run elections after he retired and has been an election judge for three cycles.

He said, “I think when you put your hand in the air and swear to support and defend the Constitution, that doesn’t end when you take off your uniform.”

Plenzler said that working as a poll worker can be helpful for veterans who are driven by a sense of duty and are looking for ways to feel satisfied in civilian life.

He said, “I think it’s really important in a democracy with citizen soldiers, not mercenaries, that when we leave the military, we get back in touch with our communities in a deep way.”

Fred Germano is a veteran of the Army. As a poll worker, he can use skills he learned in the military to help run elections. For example, he can closely follow rules and procedures, change quickly, and come up with new ways to solve problems. He volunteered at a polling place in Owings Mills, Maryland, for the first time in 2020 and hopes to do it again this year.

“It’s not really political when you’re in the military, and I don’t think most vets are easily scared,” he said. “They can stand their ground and find consensus and work with people.

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